Acting CJN Tanko Muhammad supports the removal of Onnoghen by Buhari

The Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, has told the court that President Muhammadu Buhari, has the power to remove or suspend the CJN.

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acting cjn tanko
acting cjn tanko

The Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, has told the court that President Muhammadu Buhari, has the power to remove or suspend the CJN.

The Acting CJN made the claim in defence of Buhari’s suspension of the erstwhile CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.

Former CJN Walter Onnoghen was suspended on January 25, 2019, and Muhammad was immediately appointment by the President as the Acting CJN.

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Muhammad’s claim is contained in a counter-affidavit which he filed in opposition to a suit seeking to stop him from being appointed as substantive CJN.

Malcom Omirhobo Foundation had filed a suit before the Federal High Court in Abuja through its lawyer and promoter, Chief Malcom Omirhobo.

It sought, among others, a declaration by the court that Justice Muhammad “is not a proper and fit person to be recommended by the 2nd defendant (the Federal Judicial Service Commission) to the 1st defendant (the NJC) and by the 1st defendant to the 5th defendant (Buhari) for appointment to the Office of the CJN.”

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The plaintiff said this was because Justice Muhammad in accepting to be sworn in as the Acting CJN, “conducted himself in a manner that cast doubt of confidence in his integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and having made himself a tool used in the violation of the Constitution of Nigeria.”

The National Judicial Council, the Federal Judicial Service Commission, Justice Muhammad, the Federal Government, President Buhari, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Senate were named as defendants in the suit.

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However, in his response contained in the counter-affidavit filed on his behalf by the law firm of Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), Muhammad maintained that Buhari, acting on an ex parte order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, rightly suspended Onnoghen.

The counter-affidavit was deposed to by Sadiq Ahmad, a lawyer in Fagbemi’s law firm, who also stated that he with “the 3rd defendant (Muhammad) carefully studied the plaintiff’s application for interlocutory injunction.”

The Acting CJN also pointed out that he did not commit any wrong by submitting himself to be sworn in in acting capacity following the order of the CCT and the vacuum left behind by Onnoghen’s suspension.

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He recalled that Onnoghen had subsequently, after his suspension by the President, resigned from office.

Muhammad stated that apart from the constitutional procedure for the removal of a person from the office of the CJN based on age or retirement or by an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate, “any public officer found guilty of the breach or violation of code of conduct can be ordered to vacate the office he is holding as the consequence of the breach or violation of the code of conduct.”

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He added that the President also had the power to remove or suspend any occupant of the office of the CJN.
“I also know as a fact that the 5th defendant has the power to remove or suspend any person occupying the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria being the appointing authority,” the affidavit read in part.

Justifying Onnoghen’s suspension by Buhari, the counter-affidavit stated, “That I also know as a fact that as at January 25, 2019 the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal also directed the 5th defendant to swear in the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“That it was pursuant to the said order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal that the 5th defendant appointed the 3rd defendant as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“That in the circumstance, I know as a fact there was no need for a recommendation of the 2nd defendant (FJSC) to the 1st defendant (NJC) or of the 1st defendant to the 5th defendant (Buhari) before the erstwhile Chief Justice of Nigeria could be suspended from office.
“There was also no need for the 5th defendant to approach the 7th defendant for support by majority of two-third votes, before the erstwhile Chief Justice of Nigeria could be suspended from office.”
It stated that Buhari “followed due process of law in the appointment of the 3rd defendant as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria,” adding that “there has not been any negative impact on the Nigerian judiciary as there is renewed belief by the common man in the judiciary as his last hope.”
The presiding judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo, has fixed Friday for the hearing of the suit.

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